San Diego: City of Villages
A cityscape of broad historic context, rich cultural diversity, and a growing artistic identity, San Diego has quickly become a must for Californians and tourists alike. This is where the slightly arid Mediterranean climate meets the Pacific ocean, creating micro-climates and geographically diverse terrain around which unique neighborhoods formed and subsequently became San Diego, the city of villages.
You’ll need to plan a series of visits throughout the year to cover everything San Diego has to offer, but let’s just cover a few versions to get you started: Old Town, Downtown, and Beach Town
Old Town San Diego is actually the birthplace of California. A history of cultural convergence has made this park a hub of Old West remembrances. Old Town should be enjoyed by all, but is especially family friendly. Wear your walking shoes and plan on shopping, dining, and trying to choose among almost 20 museums, 30 historic sites, blacksmithing and crafting demonstrations in the Plaza de Armas, touring authentic adobe structures erected in the early 1800s, and joining gold rush era reenactments complete with covered wagons, gold panning exercises, and staged shoot-outs.
When its time for a rest, take a seat on an Old Town Trolley Tour for lively, entertaining narratives by conductors with a love of story-telling. When evening rolls around, enjoy your choice of nightly family-friendly entertainment options. This park is especially lively during the Fiesta Cinco de Mayo and Day of the Dead celebrations. You can savor some of the best food of San Diego at any number of restaurants. There are over 25 within a one-mile radius. Just make sure you don’t leave without trying Baja Fish Tacos. These are batter-dipped, deep-fried fish fillets wrapped in corn tortillas with salsa. Make sure you get the authentic version, although there’s nothing wrong with the dressed up tacos popularized by Rubio’s Mexican Grill.
You’ll find plenty of wonderful places to stay within walking distance of Old Town San Diego, but Downtown is where you’ll want to spend the night if you’re going for a more versatile experience. Staying downtown keeps you close to the nightlife, the sea life, and the car-free life.
San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter is a vibrant cornerstone for locals and tourists alike. Whether you prefer luxury factory bargains, antiquing, or boutique originals, there is plenty of shopping. Countless restaurants feature celebrity chefs and there’s an array of hotels nearby. Just note, if you aren’t staying downtown, the parking isn’t great so either plan on parking and walking, a lot, or plan ahead to take advantage of public transportation. Outside Gaslamp, spend your days enjoying sea-side outdoor wine tastings. Segway tours of historic sites and beach-side views can be a fun, active way to spend an afternoon.
If naval history or sailing interest you, plan tours of the USS Midway and the Star of India, located in the San Diego Bay. Whale watching is incredible and worth the Dramamine dose for a glimpse of California’s blue dolphins or great blue whales. Try waterfront dining with a view of the city skyline and Coronado Island at Island Prime for lunch. Or for more casual fare, try a local favorite at Anthony’s Fish Grotto. Brewery tours can be a fun way to spend the afternoon. Then consider an evening harbor cruise for dinner and libations. If you can, drive Hawthorne Street at Sunset, a classic romantic drive along the Pacific.
The San Diego experience isn’t complete unless you enjoy it as a beach town. With 70 miles of beautiful beaches, you’ll want to set some time aside to revel in the sun and sand and enjoy watersports with the locals. Try a surf lesson, scuba diving, or the newest addition to the sea-scape, stand-up paddle boarding. There are also sailing adventures and fishing tours if being on a boat is preferable to being on the water.
From downtown you can see Coronado island. Take the ferry and spend the day exploring island life. Hotel Del Coronado is an iconic historical landmark boasting 120 years. It’s worth a tour, if not an overnight. When you are ready for a rest back on the mainland, stop at the San Diego Zoo. It is a non-profit with impressively beautiful grounds and world-wide respect for its dedication to education and conservation science. There’s always the family favorite, Sea World. Also, Seaport Village is a waterfront shopping and dining complex perfect for the family that wants to duck out of the sun. Caricature artists, balloon artists, face painting, and a historic carousel make this the perfect stop for young families.
San Diego is a collection of experiences and diverse communities that make up a city of villages. Whether you are interested in the sun drenched coast of the Pacific, luxurious Downtown excitement, or the rich historic sites and authentic cultural diversity of Old Town, there is something for everyone. And with a year-round daily forecast of 70 degrees, returning throughout the year to experience the many festivals and events is a no-excuse must.